A critique of Complementarianism


John Piper, Advocate of Complementarianism through The Gospel Coalition

One of my theology professors, Dr. Daniel Castelo, once said “Theology dies in abstraction”. Practical theology, literally theology in practice, is one of the most important aspects of sound theology. This commitment, intermixed with recognition of my experience with misogyny in the Church, was the catalyst for me writing this post. I probably wrote it a year or a year and a half ago, and have revisited it many times because it still is important to me. It is important for me to remember the sin done against me so that I do not recreate it against someone else. I apologize if it feels incomplete, but it may feel that way because it stems from years of experiencing misogyny and sexism, slowly building up the belief than I am more than what conservative Christian culture teaches me to have it knocked down over and over again. Pain is not often coherent, but I hold to the idea that pain is not bad. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, construction began in this rift, and the woman who wrote this post then is making the woman I am becoming.

One of the biggest issues I have with complementarianism is the massive discrepancies in practical submission that each side must regularly practice. Husbands and wives must submit to Christ. And wives submit to your husbands.  Yet women’s submission is under microscopic inspection- submission to Christ, the husband (or sometimes just men in general), cultural norms, and polite practices. Oh, and husbands, you are submitting to Christ. See, this is not unfair; the husbands are submitting to someone too! Except, it is understandable that men still sin; we know we cannot be perfect. We just chalk it up to “boys being boys”, locker room talk, or a God-given disposition. The mistakes he makes following Christ are okay, that why forgiveness is there. We cannot measure what it looks like for a man to submit to Christ, so as long as he calls himself a Christian and goes to church, no one calls “foul” for this canon.

I see a mass of women who either obtain their value and righteousness from jumping through all these hoops, or those who have failed and are shamed for it. You not only defend your toxic practices, but you criticize anyone who dares to be different from you. You insist that you alone practice the holy way of life; that God is pleased with your lifestyle alone. And because of that, you give yourself the right to condemn anyone is not remarkably similar to you.

It is literally the Christian strain of rape culture; taking what is wrong with American culture (because this is an American phenomenon) and slapping Christ’s name on it to justify the power struggle. It’s sanctified machismo; blessed chauvinism.

Please, give it up already.

I cannot help but compare fundamentalist thought with the Pharisees. Both rely heavily on keeping a culturally-edited Biblical law to maintain the lofty appearance of righteousness while simultaneously turning a blind eye to social injustice as if they are not at the root of it themselves. The Pharisees arrest a previously lame man for enjoying his newfound ability to walk too much because it happens on the Sabbath. The Pharisees bring an adulterous woman (notably, a woman alone, though it takes two to tango) to the feet of Jesus for judgment.

All this said I am not condemning all those to adhere to these beliefs. Even in the midst of the Pharisees there was Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea, just as among the tax collectors there was Matthew and Zacchaeus. I believe wholeheartedly that no matter what believes you adhere to, disciplining yourself in the practice of love wields good fruit no matter what. If you are not shamelessly and wildly devoted to practicing the discipline and pleasure of love, what are you doing? To serve God, who is love, is to call on his power to love (note, this is a verb. Meaning you must do something). I have a very strong suspicion that those who administer blanket condemnation (both fundamentalist and activist) call on something other than love in their practices. To put it curtly, this is idolatry.

I may not see your ways as the way I need Christ, but we all need Christ nonetheless. No matter if we call ourselves fundamentalists, feminists, activists or mystics; we function uniquely in the body of Christ. I hope you see my critique is not on what you believe, but how what you believe seduces you away from loving others as Christ did.

The body of Christ does not need to be homogenous or monotonous. God created diversity; that which is counter, original, spare, strange (Gerard Manley Hopkins, anyone?). If it brings order to your life, be complementarian; but not if you lord your power over your wife or daughters, that is not the love of Christ. If it brings purpose to your life, be an activist; but not if you forget how to listen to those seen as oppressors; that is not the love of Christ. Discipline yourselves, but recognize your place in the hierarchy of the body. Believe what you believe, but only as it is good for the body; all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable or edify (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Christ is the head, and the rest of us are very low.

Thanks be to God.


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